DISCLAIMER 1: J.K.Rowling owns the characters of this story, and I'm not making any money on it.
DISCLAIMER 2: This story was intended for the Valentine's Day Challenge over at phoenixsong.net. However, it ended up being too late and way too long, so I didn't submit it. I hope the folks over at phoenixsong won't mind that I'm putting it here. The story does contain four phrases that were part of the challenge, and to which I claim no rights. The rest of the work is mine.
Two weeks, three days, four hours, and nineteen and one-half minutes. The inscription was glowing sickly green, and Harry closed his fist in sudden rage. The bastard had given him the time down to seconds! He had probably already planned the details of the final minute, already anticipated counting down the seconds that would tick away Harry's life.
"Not while I still have breath in my body!" he vowed. He had made his decision the previous evening, despite Professor McGonagall's protests. But Dumbledore had understood. It was the only way.
So now, there was nothing left to do except say goodbye quietly. He didn't want them to know the truth. Hermione would refuse to accept it and would bury herself in books, desperately looking for a solution that didn't exist. She'd most likely blame herself when the end came. And Ron would be stricken with grief and mad with fury, and he'd insist on coming along. They both would. Harry shook his head slightly, watching them holding hands by the fire. They had their whole life ahead, a future to make together. And he...he was already part of their past. He stared at his two best friends one last time, trying to memorize their faces as they looked at that moment, smiling tenderly to each other.
"Goodbye," he whispered softly. "Thank you for loving me. I promise I'll always watch over you." And quietly, he slipped out the Common Room door unnoticed.
Two weeks, three days, one hour and fifteen minutes.
"What the hell am I doing, wasting three hours, when I should have already left? It's not like I have all the time in the world!"
He was pacing nervously in front of the Great Hall, keeping an eye on the stairway to the dungeons.
"How long can the greasy git keep her in detention? Maybe I should just walk in and tell him... Tell him what? That I want to say goodbye to her? That I want to... to kiss her?"
His hand plowed nervously through his hair. After hours of abuse, it was sticking out worse than ever, but he didn't care. He still couldn't believe what he was about to do. Maybe he shouldn't even try it. He could just forget the stupid idea, and walk away. Never see Ginny again. Never know what it felt like...
"No, I have to do it!" he muttered. "Although I doubt it'll be anything like Ron said. I'm just being ridiculous. Still...what if there is even the slightest possibility? It's the only chance I'll ever have." He gave a sudden bark of laughter and banged his fist on a nearby suit of armor. It gave a long, somber toll, and Harry felt cold shivers run up his arms. "Seventeen days from now, I'll be dead. My fears, my hopes, none of them will matter anymore. But dammit, I want to know how it feels, even if it's pointless! I won't get to experience being a man, but this, this one thing, I must know. And Ginny's the only one who can help me. She owes me that much!"
It had all started a few weeks before. Ron and Hermione had gone on their first date on Christmas Day. By New Year's Eve, they were inseparable. Harry had watched from a distance as Hermione's eyes lit up with happiness, and Ron's face glowed brighter every day. And he had felt cheated, as if they both shared a wondrous secret that he would never understand. Until one night he had finally gathered the courage to ask.
"Ron, how does it feel like?"
"How does what feel like, mate?" Ron had replied absently, a dreamy smile tugging at his lips.
"Being with Hermione. You know, like that."
Ron had turned a bemused face towards him.
"How do you think it feels?"
"I don't know. I mean, you always have a silly smile on your face when you come back from a date."
"I do not!"
"Yeah, you do. And, well, I never felt this way with Cho. I mean, it was OK going out with her and all, but..."
"I reckon that's because you never had a proper kiss, mate!"
"That's not true, we kissed once."
"I said a proper kiss, Harry!"
"What do you mean? A kiss is just a kiss, what's the difference?"
"What's the difference?! Well, I guess the difference is that a proper kiss puts a silly smile on your face," Ron had smirked, making Harry's blood boil.
"Oh, stop acting all superior! Are you gonna tell me what it feels like or not?"
"Alright, alright! It feels like...like... Look, Harry, I can't describe it. But I'll tell you one thing: it's the best bloody thing in the world! Better even than winning the Quidditch Cup!" And with that, Ron had flopped on his back and lapsed into content silence. A long while later, just as Harry was about to fall asleep, he'd muttered, "You should find a girl and try it some day."
You should try it some day... The phrase had lodged itself like a splinter in Harry's brain, and he hadn't been able to shake it loose. The more he tried, the more he thought about it, until it had become an obsession. Until it had made him delay his meeting with destiny. One proper kiss before dying...if only it would work.
The noise of tired steps trudging up the stairs brought him back to reality. A second later, a halo of tangled hair lit up the hallway.
"Ginny, I need to talk to you!" Harry whispered urgently and, before he had time to chicken out, he grabbed her hand and started down the corridor at a run.
"Harry? You scared me! What's going on? Harry! Harry, you're going too fast."
But he only increased his pace as he dragged her towards the Charms classroom. They were both breathing heavily by the time he slammed the door shut and locked it.
"What... the hell... are you doing?" she panted, her eyes already sparkling with anger.
"Sorry, Gin." He pushed his fingers through his hair again. "I need to ask you something, and it's rather urgent!"
"What is it?" she inquired, her expression immediately softening in concern.
"Err... the thing is..." He took a big gulp of air and decided to plunge in. "Ron's been telling me how great it is when he and Hermione kiss. And I've been thinking... since today is Valentine's Day, and, well, neither of us has a date... I thought perhaps you might like to
give it a try?"
"Give what a try, Harry?"
"Kissing!" he snapped, frustrated that she was making him spell it out. He'd thought that the fact that it happened to be Valentine's Day would eliminate the need for other explanations. "Y-you see," he hastened to add when she remained silent, "I only kissed Cho once, and it wasn't that good..." His voice trailed off at the look on her face. Perhaps he shouldn't have mentioned Cho...
"I see. So you decided to experiment with me." Her voice chilled him to the bone. "After all, why not use little Ginny? She's always handy when the great Harry Potter deigns to notice her. Just what the hell do you take me for?" she yelled, her face going red and blotchy. "Your bloody rug, to trample upon whenever you want? God knows, I stopped expecting love from you a long time ago. I suppose I never really expected any sensitivity either. But I thought, I really, truly thought, that you at least respected me." Her voice broke on a sob, and she twisted away from him in a hurry. Her shoulders heaved heavily as Harry looked on, dumbstruck. "Well," she added in a whisper, "silly me." And with that, she was gone.
Harry snapped out of his stupor and hurled himself after her.
"Ginny, wait! I'm sorry! Please don't go. I don't want us to part like this. Ginny!"
How could she run so bloody fast? He could feel his lungs on fire as he tried to catch up with her. With a muttered curse, he put on a desperate burst of speed and his hand shot out. He managed to
snatch her fingers and spin her around.
"Ginny, I'm sorry. I do respect you. You're my best friend. I'm sorry!"
He felt his heart clutch as she merely regarded him in silence, tears coursing freely down her cheeks. Big, wrecking sobs shook her every few seconds, but she made no noise aside from that.
"Look, it was stupid of me. I just thought that maybe people had to be best friends to experience a proper kiss. You know, like Ron and Hermione. And then I thought, perhaps you and I..."
"Do you have any idea how it feels like, Harry?" she asked quietly, and the pain in her voice knifed right through him. "To love someone for so many years, without hope... I've dreamed of kissing you every night since I've met you. And now you come and ask me to try it, like it's some bloody Potions experiment?" Her small frame trembled from head to toe with a wrenching shudder. "It's not friendship that makes kissing great, Harry, it's love. I hope you find it one day."
"Ginny..." He didn't know what else to say. His hand trembled as he raised it to her face and gently brushed a tear away. The marks on his palm hissed angrily and suddenly flared up.
"Harry," Ginny said, perplexed, "where on earth did you get that?" She caught his hand and forced it open, looking at the writing upon it.
"What? Oh, it's nothing. I...I did it to remind myself of...of Ron's birthday."
She wiped her eyes with an impatient gesture and peered at his palm more closely. "Then you miscalculated by a couple of days. And why would you do that to your hand? You can always enchant your calendar, it's an easy charm."
He shrugged, avoiding her eyes. "Guess I just wanted to try something new."
"Look at me," she commanded, her voice no longer weak and teary. She was in her Molly-mood now, and he knew better than to try and get around her. Harry steeled himself and raised his gaze. To his horror, her eyes narrowed in speculation as they swept over his face. "It's something to do with You-Know-Who, isn't it?"
"Why... why would you say that? That's ridiculous!"
He did his best to sound mocking, but she wasn't buying it.
"You have that haunted look in your eyes. The one you get when something bad has happened. Something to do with him. Harry!" she exclaimed in exasperation when he didn't say anything. "Please, tell me what's wrong. "
"No, Ginny. Trust me, it's better this way."
"Better? Better to wonder and to imagine all sorts of horrors? No matter what it is, it's ten times easier if you tell me, Harry!"
"Yeah? Even if I tell you that I'm dying?"
He wanted to kick himself the moment the words were out of his mouth. The silence between them stretched on. Somewhere above, a muffled thud shook the walls. Probably Peeves, he thought incongruously. Along the corridor, soft rustles could be heard from the paintings, as their subjects hurried back to their portraits. The castle was settling down for the night.
Without warning, he felt his hand grabbed by cold, slender fingers, and he was being dragged back to the classroom. He hadn't known she was that strong. She pushed him in a chair and knelt down by it, pleading with her eyes. Harry heaved a deep sigh.
"It happened two days ago. I had another dream. I guess I'm not too good at Occlumency, because he managed to sneak in again. He's developed a poison that kills those who share the same blood. The bastard! He used my blood to come back, Gin, and now...now he's using it to kill me! He drank the poison and chanted Blood to blood. It must have opened a connection between us, because I could feel the poison seep into my body."
"But that means he's gonna die too, doesn't it?"
Harry shook his head grimly. "No, he has the antidote. He must take the poison three times, once every twenty four hours. After that, it becomes lethal and only the antidote can save you. He's already taken the poison twice," he answered Ginny's unspoken question. "The third time will be in less than an hour."
"But we can make the antidote, too. You can't give up hope, Harry! Let's go to Dumbledore. And Snape. And Hermione. I'm sure we can find something."
"I've already talked to the professors. They don't know what this poison is. And even if they did, there'd be no time to make the antidote. Voldemort took great pleasure in letting me know that it takes exactly twenty days to brew it. That's also how long I have to live from the moment he took the first dose."
"Then this writing on your hand...?"
"Yeah, that's how long I have left. It was Voldemort's idea of fun. He added the charm to the poison, so I could see my life going by." He curled his upper lip in a wolfish snarl. "I'm not gonna let him have the last laugh, Ginny! I've been able to sense his thoughts much better since he opened the connection. I'm gonna find him and kill him!"
"Good! I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not. And you can't tell Ron and Hermione, either. Stay out of this!"
"Stay out of this? It's my fight too, Harry. Just who the hell do you think you are, to order me around?"
"I'm the one who can kill him, that's who I am! Remember the prophecy?" He took a shaky breath and looked at her beseechingly. "I'm already dying, Ginny, but I don't want to take anyone else down with me. Please, let's not part in anger. I want your last memory of me to be a happy one. Please," he whispered through white lips.
He watched in fascination as the steel in her eyes melt into something sad and indescribably tender. His breath hitched as she brought his hand to her mouth and slowly kissed the hateful inscription. Then she took her wand out and prodded it gently.
"It's no use, Gin. Dumbledore and McGonagall both tried. You can't stop it, Ginny, do you hear me? Don't push so hard...ow..." he stared numbly at the deep gash yawning on his palm. But before he had time to understand what was happening, she twisted his hand in an iron grip and squeezed hard. "Ginny, wha...?" When had she cut her hand? And what was she... "NOOOOO! Don't!"
Yet it was already too late. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as he watched in horror his blood drip into her cut, then her wand tap his hand first, and then hers, sealing the wounds.
"Blood to blood," she intoned softly, and Harry's heart stopped when the letters and numbers glowed on her palm. "Now we're both dying, Harry. And I'm coming with you."
"Why?" he asked hoarsely. "Why, Ginny, why?"
"Because I took an oath long ago, on the day I woke up in the Chamber, that I'll always be by your side."
"But you didn't have to die for this! You should have explained it to me, perhaps I would've understood. Oh, God, I killed you!"
"No, Harry. I would have done it anyway." Hesitatingly, she put her arms around his neck. They were cold and trembling, yet he felt like he was burning wherever they touched him. "Don't you see, my love? I don't want to live without you."
For a long moment, he forgot how to breathe. He saw his reflection in her eyes, and beyond that, he saw himself in her soul. The thought flitted through his mind that she had deceived him all these years, for she had never allowed him to see behind her shuttered gaze before. And he had never imagined how deep... The thought flew away unfinished, as all of a sudden his hands fisted in the small of her back, and he was crushing her body with his, stealing her breath with his, desperate to meld them together. He felt her stiffen in shock, but he couldn't bring himself to stop. After a few seconds, it didn't matter anymore, as the same madness overtook her, too. She pressed her lips to his painfully, making their teeth clash, but he didn't care. They clung to each other in wild fever, knowing that each second was counted away by evil, yet desperately trying to ward it off with their hearts. Harry felt his head swim from lack of air, and dark spots danced in front of his eyes.
"I wish it could end right now. I would die happy in Ginny's arms."
Then, without warning, the world exploded in bright shards of color. He slid to the floor, pressing his fingers to his scar as the high-pitched wail filled his ears.
"You will pay for this, Potter! And so will your stupid little witch! You... shall... both... pay!"
He screamed in agony as a rage that wasn't his coursed through his body. His scar was burning and throbbing, it was unbearable, it had to stop! And then, unexpectedly, everything went dark.
"Harry?" Ginny's voiced seemed to reach him from far, far away. He struggled to open his eyes and saw her face above his, a mixture of fear and dawning relief.
"I'm OK, Gin," he croaked.
"Vol-Voldemort?" she managed in a whisper. Harry nodded slightly, wincing in pain.
"He was in a rage. We...we poisoned him, Gin." A smile tugged at his lips as he noticed her confusion. "We poisoned him with love. He can't stand it. Funny thing, Snape did suggest that we create a poison of our own that would work over the blood connection. But there wasn't enough time to do it. Besides, it would have weakened me too much. In the end, the Order decided our best bet was for me to fight him. And all the while, the answer was right in front of my face." His smile waned as his gaze grew grim. "He's gonna come after you too, now, Ginny. And it's all my fault."
She pressed her fingers to his lips rather forcefully. "Don't you dare start this again, Harry! I thought we agreed to face him together."
"Actually, we may not have to fight him after all. I mean, not right now. Before I blacked out, I felt something strange. I think...I think he severed the connection, Gin. If he doesn't send the third dose of poison into our bodies, we're safe. I guess we'll know in a few minutes," he added as he struggled to sit up and turned his palm up.
Two weeks, three days, and seven and one-quarter minutes.
Their eyes stayed glued to their hands as they watched the numbers silently changing.
"Harry?" she asked hesitantly after a while. "When you said we poisoned him with love...Were you just talking about my feelings?"
He looked up from his hand in surprise. "Of course not, Gin. Couldn't you tell? I mean, when I k-kissed y-you?" Great, now I'm stuttering like an idiot. Probably blushing, too. She must think I'm a dolt.
"Boys kiss girls all the time. For all I know, you kissed Cho just the same."
Harry snorted as he remembered that particular moment. "Actually, she kissed me, and it was nothing like this. Nothing!" He cupped her face and stared deep into her eyes, willing her to see the truth in his heart.
"Then why didn't you ever tell me, Harry?" she inquired quietly, and he could see how much she was still hurting.
"Because I didn't know," he sighed. "I mean, I knew I cared about you, but I never stopped to label my feelings. Like you said, I got used to having you around, to leaning on you whenever I needed to. I took you for granted, Ginny, and I'm sorry."
"Oh, well... I guess it takes a death sentence to wake some people up," she teased.
"I wish it hadn't been like that. He's been controlling my whole life! He killed my parents and my Godfather, he kidnapped me to use my blood. I even had to grow up with the Dursleys because of him! I wish at least our first kiss hadn't been because of something he did." He ran his fingers through his hair in anger and turned his gaze back to his palm.
"It's OK, Harry. There's always second kisses," Ginny said softly, and gave him a brilliant smile when his head jerked up in surprise. Their eyes held for a long moment, making unspoken promises for the future. Then the green light flickered again, and their breaths caught as they watched the words that would decide their fate.
Two weeks, three days, and one-quarter minute...Two weeks, three days...
The inscription held for what seemed like an eternity, and then slowly started to fade away. Harry felt light-headed as the air rushed out of his lungs with a violent whoosh. Next to him, Ginny swayed and started to crumple. His strength suddenly returned as he put his arms around her and brought her to his chest.
"Shh, it's alright," he intoned soothingly as violent shivers shook Ginny. "We did it, love. We defeated him. And now we've got each other, too."
She made a strangled sound that could have been both laughter and sob, and curled into his body. Harry's heart gave a huge, shuddering thud at the sight of this girl who had chosen to die rather than live without him. This brave girl who had been ready to fight Voldemort by his side, yet was now trembling like a leaf in his arms. A wave of warmth like he'd never felt before washed over him, as he tilted her chin up and gently brushed her lips. She was soft, and unexpectedly shy. Suddenly giddy, he kissed her eyelids and temples, moved back to her mouth, then up to her cheeks, and to her button of a nose.
"Stop that!" Ginny giggled shakily. "It tickles!"
"Sorry, darling, you have to put up with it from now on."
"No, I don't," she protested, trying to push his hands away. He locked them more tightly around her.
"Yeah, you do. You promised me second kisses. Can't take it back now."
"Fine, but you've already had your third, and fourth, and fifth kiss. Harry!" she shrieked with laughter as his lips landed on the tip of her nose again.
"You said second kisses. Plural!"
"Oh...I guess I did. And just how many kisses do you figure to get for that plural?" Her eyes were sparkling with mirth, and Harry went suddenly limp as the realization hit him like a brick in the head. He would never get enough of her, even if he lived to be two hundred. The laughter that erupted from his chest rang clear through the castle.
"Countless, Ginny! That's how many fit in that plural."
As his lips closed hungrily over hers again, he thought that Ron had been completely right. Proper kisses were the best bloody thing in the world. Especially if they were countless proper second kisses!